Front And Center – December 1, 2019 (Televised Version)


male announcer: The following
program is paid for by the friends and partners
of “Touching Lives.” James Merritt: The God who
brought you into this world, the God who created this world,
the God who created the sun and the stars and the moon and
the galaxies and the solar system
and the entire universe, here’s what this God
said at the cross. You ready for this? He said, “I’d rather die for
you than live without you.” announcer: Teaching people
everywhere who Jesus is and why they need him, this is “Touching
Lives” with James Merritt. James Merritt: Some of the
world’s major religions have a visual symbol that illustrates
the central feature of its beliefs, and when you see that
symbol, you’re actually looking at a visual commentary of what
they believe at the heart of their very religious faith. For example, Buddhism is
symbolized by the lotus flower. Now, I find it
really interesting. I didn’t know this, but the
lotus flower has a life cycle unlike any other
flower that we know of. It’s actually rooted in mud, and
every night the flower submerges into this murky river water. Somehow, overnight, by morning,
it miraculously re-blooms without any mud on its
petals whatsoever. So this wheel shaped lotus
flower depicts the central belief of Buddhism which is,
“We’re all in this endless cycle, you’re born, you live,
you die, and then based on how you lived your life, you are
reincarnated; you come back as something or you come
back as someone else.” Judaism is symbolized
by the Star of David. And this symbol represents the
fact that Jews believe that God made a covenant with David, that
out of his lineage he would send a messiah who would not only
be over the Jewish race, but he would actually rule
over the entire universe. And then of course Islam
is symbolized by the star and the crescent moon. That’s symbol actually
predates the religion. It was adopted in religious
times because what it symbolizes is that there’s a God that is
totally sovereign and totally powerful
and over everything. But without question, the
most ubiquitous and the most universally recognized religious
symbol all around the world is a simple cross. And there’s a big difference
in this symbol and every other symbol of every
other religious faith, and this is the difference. The cross–
now listen carefully– the cross is not just a symbol
of the Christian faith, it is the secret
to the Christian life. The way you are a Christian,
the way you become a Christian, the way you live as a Christian
is all wrapped up in the cross, and having said that, I really
believe the most misunderstood religious symbol of the world is
the cross, and I’m going to tell you two reasons why. First of all, as you know,
crosses are worn as pendants, they’re worn as necklaces. I guarantee you there are
people in this room right now. You came in, you wear a
cross around your neck. And what’s so fascinating is
anybody and everybody wears a cross. Athletes wear crosses. Movie stars wear crosses. Celebrities wear crosses. Rockstars wear crosses. Politicians wear crosses. Somebodies, nobodies,
everybodies, anybodies– and it doesn’t matter. They could be a
Christian or not a Christian. They can believe in God or not
believe in God, go to church not go to church, believe the Bible,
not believe the Bible, and yet they will wear a cross around
their neck, because people tend to see the cross as kind
of a symbol of goodwill. It’s a symbol of acceptance. It’s almost like they
say, “You know what? It doesn’t matter what
I believe spiritually. It doesn’t matter whether I have
a religion or don’t have one. The cross is just a
really cool thing to wear.” But the second reason why
I know that many people don’t understand it is because
you really kind of can’t find anybody that really says
a whole lot against it. Nobody’s gonna slam you,
nobody’s gonna criticize you, nobody’s gonna knock you,
nobody’s gonna come up to you and get your face and go,
“Why are you wearing that cross around your neck?” But you may say,
“Well, why should they?” Look ’cause 2,000 years ago,
you would have never dreamed about putting a cross on
a necklace or a bracelet. You’d never worn it in public. You say, “Why?” Because 2,000 years ago the
cross was considered obscene. It was actually despised. As matter of fact, to the Romans
the cross was so despicable that Cicero, the Roman
orator, wrote these words. He said, “Even the mere word
cross must remain far– not only from the lips
of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts,
their eyes, their ears.” Cicero said don’t even teach
your kids to use that word. If they use the word cross,
wash your mouth out with soap. We don’t talk about
that word in public. For the Jews, crucifixion
was the same thing as hanging. In the Old Testament thought,
if you died by hanging you were under the curse of God. To the Greeks, they were
philosophers, they were kind of the intellectual elite,
they thought the cross was foolishness. They thought the cross
was just sheer stupidity. They thought it was nonsense. So, everybody and anybody that
was anybody rejected the cross. Don’t talk about it, don’t point
to it, don’t think about it, but there was one
exception, the early church. From it’s beginning they said
we don’t see the cross the way you see the cross. We don’t have the same attitude
toward the cross that you have toward the cross. And there was a man by the name
of Paul who more than anybody, really came to the fore and
said, “Oh, let me tell you why we love the cross. Let me tell you why
we glory in the cross. Let me tell you why all we want
to talk about is the cross.” If you’re visiting for the first
time, we’ve been in a series in the Book of Galatians. We’re actually ending
that series today. We’ve been calling
it “Free at Last.” And what this book is
all about is very simple. Paul basically had been saying
for sixth chapters, Jesus did not come to give us another
religion, he came to free us from religion. He didn’t come so we’d have more
rituals to follow, more rules to follow, more this, more that. He came to free us from all of
that, and the way he did it was by the cross, because the
cross frees us not only from the burden of sin, it frees us
from the bondage of religion. And so he comes to this last
chapter, chapter 6 of Galatians, and he gives this jaw-dropping,
breathtaking statement 2,000 years ago that is just
really hard to believe. Not today, no big deal, but
back then it was unbelievable. ‘Cause let me go back and remind
you just one more time, 2,000 years ago people
didn’t take the cross, put it in the closet all the way
in the back, shut the door, lock it and throw away the key. Paul comes along and says, “Oh,
no, I want it front and center. I want to shine
a spotlight on it. I want to put it on a pedestal. I want you to think
about it every day. I want it to dominate your life. I want you to talk to your
friends and neighbors about it. I wanna brag about
nothing but the cross.” Because here’s what’s amazing. If anybody had a reason and a
right to brag about themselves, it was a guy named Paul,
because take your pick. Greatest preacher
in the world, check. Greatest missionary
of the church, check. Greatest apologist
in the world, check. Greatest theologian the
world’s ever seen, check. Greatest religious author
of the New Testament, check. If anybody ever had a right
to walk up to you and say, “Would you like my autograph?”
it was Paul. And yet Paul makes this
statement, looking at the cross that’s just mind-boggling. Listen to what he said. “May I never boast.” Now, this is rock star Paul,
superstar Paul, Mount Rushmore Paul, “May I never boast except
in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the
world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Now, let me tell you why that’s
such an amazing statement. We should keep the
cross front and center. We oughtta brag about nothing
but the cross, but we should brag about the cross. There’s a reason why
I’m glad our church is called Cross Point. I want us to point to the cross. I want us to be people
of the cross. You say, “How in the world? Why would Paul say that?” Well, he gives us three
tremendous reasons in the simple little verse why we should
forever put the cross front and center, and we should
always brag about the cross. Number one: We should boast
about the person who died on the cross. We ought to boast about the
person who died on the cross. Now, Paul normally would have
been the very first person that you would’ve expected to say,
“Look, nobody ought to boast about an instrument that
was used to kill people, hang people, asphyxiate
people, torture people. Why the world you brag
about something like that? I mean, who in their right mind
would brag about a symbol of what is still today maybe
the most horrific way you can execute a person.” Well, here’s why. This was no ordinary
cross Paul was talking about. Listen to what he said. He said, “May I never boast
except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There’s the difference. Jesus is mentioned 45 times
in 6 chapters in Galatians. One out of every three
verses talks about Jesus. Listen, it wasn’t the cross
that captivated Paul, it was the person that died on the
cross that dominated Paul. Here’s what I want
you to understand. It is not the cross that makes
Jesus Christ so special, it is Jesus Christ that makes
the cross so special. He said, “It is the cross
of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul said, “Look, I’m not proud
of the cross, I’m proud of the cross of the Lord
Jesus Christ.” And here’s why. Every other religious
symbol points to that religion. The lotus flower
points to Buddhism. The Star of David
points to Judaism. The star and crescent
points to Islam. The cross does not point
to a religion, it points to a redeemer. It doesn’t point to a
philosophy, it points to a person, and it doesn’t point to
a belief you hold in your head, it points to a Lord that
you carry in your heart. 30,000 Jews were
crucified by the Roman Empire. Jesus was one of them. A crucified Jew just wasn’t that
big a deal, but there was a day when a man named
Jesus was crucified. And on that day, he wasn’t
just another criminal dying on just another cross
for just another crime. He didn’t die for what he
did, he died for what we did. And that’s what makes
the cross so completely, totally different. What makes this cross, the cross
of Christ, like no other cross is who died on that cross. That’s why Paul
refers to it as, “The cross of the
Lord Jesus Christ.” He said, “You don’t know
who died on that cross?” First of all, he is the
Lord of the universe. Number two: he is the
savior of the World. Number three: he is
the Jewish Messiah. He is the Lord.
That is, he is God. He is Jesus. The word Jesus is from Joshua,
means Jehovah is salvation. He is the Christ, he is
the one promised Messiah. So what he’s saying is on that
day, the one that died on that cross was no less and no other
than the Jewish Messiah, the Savior of the World,
the Lord of the Universe. That’s why out of 30,000 Jews
that were crucified in history, the only one we can name is
Jesus, ’cause he wasn’t just a guy, and he wasn’t a criminal,
he wasn’t just a man, he was one in three and three in one. “I am the Son of God. I am the Lord of the universe. I am the Jewish Messiah. I am the Savior of the World.” See, every other Jew,
29,999 Jews died in their sin. Jesus died for our sin, and
that’s why Paul said, “When I brag, I wanna brag on the
cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s why every time you look
at the cross, you ought to think about what God has done for you. That cross should
always point to Jesus. You know, the first half
of our mission statement, as you well know, is to point
people to Jesus. And here’s the point. When we point people to the
cross, we’re not pointing people to two pieces of wood where they
used to nail Jewish prisoners to the cross, we’re pointing people
to the person who died on that cross for our sins. Paul said we ought to brag
about the person who died on the cross. ‘Cause even that Roman
centurion, when Jesus drew his last breath, even that
Roman Centurion said, “Surely! This was the Son of God.” What a brag about the
person who died on the cross. Number two: We should boast
about the purpose that was demonstrated in the cross. So, what was the purpose? Understand this,
that was no accident, that was an appointment. As a matter of fact, one of
the disciples named Peter who was nearby, both before
and after the crucifixion, here’s what he said. Talking about the crucifixion,
he said, “This man was
handed over to you.” He was talking to the Pharisees. “This man was handed over to
you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” When Jesus Christ died on
the cross, God had a plan, and God had a purpose. The God who brought
you into this world. The God who created this world. The God who created the sun and
the stars and the moon and the galaxies and the solar system
and the entire universe, here’s what this God
said at the cross. You ready for this? He said, “I’d rather die for
you than live without you. That’s how much I love you.” So, we ought to boast about the
person who died on the cross. We ought to boast about the
purpose that was demonstrated at the cross. God gave us love,
and God shows us life. But there’s one last thing, we
ought to boast about the power that was delivered by the cross. Now this is something you
don’t hear very often, so I want you to hear,
’cause we leave this out. There’s a power that comes. When you come to the cross, you
don’t just get salvation, you don’t just get pie-in-the-sky,
you don’t just get a home in heaven. When you come to the cross and
you accept the person who died on the cross, you get
a power nobody else has. You get a streak
nobody else has. When you trust the person who
died on the cross and you accept that purpose, you get a power
that no one else has, and let me tell you why. It’s got a lot to do with
the world that we live in, and I don’t mean
the physical world. I mean the moral world. I should say the immoral world. I’m talkin’ about the world of
sin and success and wickedness and wealth and greed and gold. Here’s what Paul said, “You
know why I brag on the cross? You know why I’m so
proud of the cross? You know why my life is
dominated by the cross? Do you know why I live in
the shadow of the cross every single day? Because the cross gives me
victory over the world that I live in.” ‘Cause listen to what
he said, watch this. We miss this part. Paul said, “May I never boast
except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the person of the
cross, the purpose of the cross. “Hey, he loves me,
gives me life.” But listen to this,
“Through which–” and this is
really interesting– “the world has been
crucified to me.” Now, what does that mean? What do you mean? I understand that Jesus died on
the cross, but what do you mean when you say, The world
has been crucified with me? Well, watch this, when Jesus
died on the cross, God also made sure that the world was
crucified on the cross. And I don’t mean, again,
the physical world. I mean the moral world,
the ethical world, the philosophical world,
the world that’s an enemy of God, the world that’s
reject the authority of the Son of God,
the world that turns his back on the word of God. I’m talking about the world
of Hollywood’s fame and Wall Street’s money
and Washington’s power. He said, “That’s all
been crucified to a follower of Jesus. The world is dead to you.” But then he goes on and adds
this, “And I to the world.” What? Oh yeah. When I gave my life to Jesus
as a 9-year-old boy, I didn’t realize all that happened to me,
and I still don’t realize all that happened, but
I’ll tell you one thing I realize now that happened. The moment I gave my life to
Jesus, two things happened, two things died. The world died to me,
and I died to the world. Now, let me tell you why
that’s such a big deal. The biggest difference between
a follower of Jesus and a non-follower of Jesus is this:
we all live in this world, but a follower of Jesus is dead to
this world, and the world is dead to this follower of Jesus. See, we really do march to
the beat of a different drum. We really do walk
a different path. We really are citizens of
another world, and that’s why the cross is the one place you
can go to and you can lay at it’s feet all of your faults
and all of your flaws and all of your failures. You can nail them there, you can
leave them there, and you can find complete forgiveness
and victory in this life. This cross can solve racism in
a heartbeat if we get under it. It can solve our
biggest problems. It’s the one place you can
go to and know I’ll always be accepted. It’s the one place you can go
to and you can say I failed, and he’ll say, “I know it, I
forgive you, let’s move on.” It’s the one place you can go
to and know I’m always gonna find love and grace. So, because of the cross,
we can overcome the flaws of this world. We can overcome
the power of sin. We can escape the
trap of temptation. We can even resist
the devil himself. That’s why the second half of
our statement is not just to point people to Jesus,
it’s to inspire them to live the cross-shaped life. What is that? It’s a life where you say to
the world: You don’t own me, you don’t run me,
you don’t direct me. I have one God,
and you’re not it. I have died to you, you’ve
died to me, so I don’t need the world’s applause. I don’t need the world success. I don’t need the world’s fame. I don’t need the world fortune. It doesn’t matter to me
what the Gallup Poll say. It doesn’t matter to me
what the Congress thinks. I’m here to do God’s will. I’m here to do what’s right,
not do what is wrong, and live for his glory. And I’m telling you, when
you do that, you are free at last, totally free. So, I want you to think about
these three last questions, ’cause I’ve tried to
answer every one of them. Who died on that cross? When you get that straight,
you won’t see the cross the same way. Why did he die on that cross? When you understand that,
you won’t see the cross the same way. And what is the cross done and
what does the cross do for me? When you understand that,
you will not see the cross the same way. That’s why we put the
cross front and center. You’ll understand there’s
something about the cross, it both kills life,
and it gives life. What do you mean? Oh, it kills, it kills the joy
of sin, it kills the thrill of temptation, it kills the
pleasure of doing wrong, but what does it give you? The desire to be holy,
the desire to be godly, the desire to be kind,
the desire to be gracious, the desire to be righteous. So you know why I put the
cross front and center? Because this cross is the
dividing line between the world and every follower of Jesus. Because let me
tell you something. You’re on one side of
the cross or the other. Mahatma Gandhi, the great
Indian wrote these words. It’s heartbreaking. He said, “I could accept Jesus
as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice and
a divine teacher. His death on the cross was a
great example to the world but that there was anything like
a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart
could not accept.” He has now, I promise you. Too late, but he has now. Because the cross is front
and center–listen– for everybody. For those who come to it, it
is a fountain of eternal life. But for those who don’t,
it is the condemnation of eternal death. Let me just tell you this,
and we’re done. George H.W. Bush,
not George W., but the father. He’s president of United States. He’s going to have his first
meeting with Vladimir Putin. So, he asked for materials to be
brought into study up on Putin to kind of find out what
kind of guy he’s dealing with. One of the books they gave him,
in that book there was this long interview that President Putin
had given, and it was about his mother. Evidently, his mother was a
devout believer, and she had actually gotten a Christian
cross, she had it blessed in Jerusalem, and she
had given it to Putin. So, when president Bush met with
Putin, he brought this up, and this is the
conversation that they had. This is Bush talking. “I said to him, ‘I found
that story very interesting. You see, President Putin,
I think you judge a person on something other
than just politics. I think it’s important for me
and for you to look for the depth of a person’s soul
and character.’ Then I said I was
touched by the fact that your mother
gave you the cross.” He was dumbfounded when Putin
told him a story in return. When his mother gave him
on that cross, he began to wear that cross. Took it everywhere he went. In a beautiful house, he was
visiting with someone very important, and he happened
to put the cross down on a table and he forgot it. Well, the house burned down. And Bush then recounts
the conversation. He said, “Putin said to me, ‘The
thing I was most worried about was I lost my cross that my
mother had given me.’ He said about that time,
a worker came up to me and I was going to tell the
worker, ‘Go find the cross. I lost my cross.’ And about that time,
the worker had walked up to me, put out his hand
and opened it up, and he was holding that cross.’ Putin said, ‘It was as if
something was meant for me to have that cross.'” At that moment, President
Bush felt that Putin was basically saying
there must be a higher power up there. And then to his credit,
President Bush leaned forward, took him by the hand, looked him
in the eye, and he said this, “President Putin,
that’s what it’s all about. That’s what life is all about. That’s what you are all about. That’s what the
world is all about. It’s all about the story
of the Cross.” And I want to tell you
something, President Bush was so right. The cross is what
it’s all about. It should always be front and
center, because the only hope for this world has been, is,
and always will be at the foot of the cross of our
Lord Jesus Christ. male announcer: To watch an
extended version of today’s teaching message
with Dr. James Merritt, go to TouchingLives.org. James Merritt: Another broadcast
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right now to support Touching Lives, because together
we can advance the gospel around the world in 2020. [drum music playing] [drum music playing] [drum music playing] [drum music playing] James Merritt: You know,
everyone associates the cross with Christianity, but not
everyone truly understands what faith in Jesus means. Paul knew the impact of the
cross, so he addressed the importance of it as he closed
out his letter to this church in Galatia. Paul emphatically says he wants
us to boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here’s why he says this: If
you will put the cross front and center in your life, it will
build in you a desire to be holy, to be godly,
and to be righteous. So as we close out this series,
this is my prayer: Let’s both keep the cross front
and center in our lives. Until we meet again for the
next episode of Touching Lives. announcer: Touching Lives,
teaching people everywhere who Jesus is and why they need him. This program is sponsored
by Touching Lives Ministries and is made possible
by the grace of God and your faithful
prayers and gifts.

2 comments

  1. Dr James Merritt please keep preaching the Gospel as you have been all your years. This preaching is reminds me of the preaching in the Acts of the apostles. GLORY TO GOD

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